On A Mission: Rodgers & Hill Help Haiti

Alex Ptachick

For one week, from sun up to sun down, he spent his time improving a Haitian orphanage and playing with impoverished children. He welded soccer nets, built a basketball court and dug a 120-yard trench for a power source. He introduced the kids to baseball and outfitted them in sports gear he brought from home. The tears the children shed when he left were a testament to the lasting impact he made on their lives.

Sam Rodgers, a junior long snapper for the Syracuse University football team, traveled to Williamson, Haiti to serve the poverty-stricken community for one week. He was a member of an 18-person team made up of his family members, his college roommate and teammate, Macauley Hill, and others from his hometown of State College, Pa.

“My sisters and cousin fell in love with Haiti and wanted the whole family to experience it,” Rodgers said. “I’ve done some other things in the Pennsylvania area, but this was my first international Mission trip.”

Rodgers and his team traveled with a nonprofit organization called Poverty Resolutions. Based out of Pennsylvania, Poverty Resolutions is dedicated to serving the people of Haiti. The organization was created by two brothers—Andrew and Matt Jones—who traveled to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake and lived on a dollar a day for 28 days. Their goal is to educate Americans about the state of poverty in Haiti, in hopes of generating economic support.

The entire Rodgers family—made up of mom, dad, four daughters and one son, Sam—made the trip to Haiti. For some, it was the first time, but for others it was a common occurrence.

“This was my first time, but my twin sisters have been five times,” Rodgers said. “My dad actually went for the first time, along with my 26-year-old sister and her husband.”

Rodgers admitted that prior to the trip, he didn’t know what to expect. He said he heard stories from his sisters and cousin, whom are staying for the whole summer this time, but he just didn’t know what it was going to be like. He knew he was helping out at an orphanage called the “House of Hope” and he was relieved to find out he would be staying in a nice home, owned by a Haitian woman who regularly houses volunteers on Mission trips.

“On the first day, I remember walking out of the airport in Port au Prince, the capital city, and it smelled like an oven—it was so hot,” Rodgers said. “It almost felt like I was in a video game. There was just wildlife wandering—chickens and goats—and there was garbage everywhere.”

He quickly realized how these people lived and how much help is needed in a place like Haiti.

A typical day
6:45 a.m. Wake up, eat breakfast and get ready for the day.
7:30 a.m. Leave for the orphanage.
8 a.m. Arrive at the orphanage. The children are already in school. Begin working on service projects.
9:30 a.m. Recess—play with the children.
10:30 a.m. Return to work.
Noon Kindergarteners get out of school. It starts to get too hot to work, so the volunteers begin working in 30-minute increments.
1 p.m. The other children get out of school. Those who come just for school go home and the kids at the orphanage change out of their school clothes. Play with the kids.
4 p.m. Leave to go back to the house—swim, shower, eat, debrief and play games
10 p.m. Bedtime.

For seven days, Rodgers and the team repeated the same schedule with some slight variations. On Sundays, the Haitian people would go to church from 8:30 a.m.—noon. Rodgers said he and his team didn’t stay the whole time, but it was obvious how important faith was to the villagers. Wednesdays were market days. He said there were nearly five times as many village people on the street on market days, buying goods from local vendors.

“I went to the market once, and once was enough,” Rodgers said.

He told the story of how he watched a Haitian woman saw off the head of a live goat. He said it was memorable because it was so out of the ordinary and shocking to him, but then he realized that this is their life and they don’t know anything different.

Although the trip entailed a lot of hard work and a little turmoil thanks to the heat and a mild illness, Rodgers said he enjoyed his time there and plans to return.

“At the end of the stay, some kids were sad and crying,” Rodgers said. “Since you’re only there for one week, you don’t really feel like you made much of an impact because of the language barrier and everything. When you see them crying, though, it makes you realize how much you can influence them in such a short amount of time.” Rodgers experience was both rewarding and eye opening. He said he and the team he was a part of talked about making a trip during the same time next year with the same people. “Our team worked really well together,” Rodgers said. “It helped because most of us were family, but even the people not related fit right in.”

Rodgers’s involvement in the community doesn’t just stop there.

On top of maintaining high academic standing and the rigors of being a Division I athlete, he still finds time to serve the Syracuse community.

“For football we are encouraged to do community service,” Rodgers said. “We go out into the community and talk to seventh-grade classes about life skills. I also give talks about nutrition because that’s my major.”

In addition, Rodgers is a Fellowship of Christian Athletes leader and he meets with that club twice a week. He also embarked on starting a new chapter of Uplifting Athletes, a national organization, at SU.

He heard about Uplifting Athletes because of where he is from in Pennsylvania. After mentioning an annual rare disease fundraising event that takes place at Penn State University to a new graduate assistant coach after a meeting one day, Rodgers was given some contact information for the co-founder, Scott Shirley. In late April, Shirley met with Rodgers and some other teammates to tell them what the organization is all about.

Uplifting Athletes pairs college football with fundraising for a rare disease of the chapter’s choice. The organization began in 2003 at Penn State when Shirley’s father became ill with kidney cancer. Today, there are 18 chapters that hold fundraising events throughout the year and spreading awareness about various rare diseases.

The recently developed Orange Uplifting Athletes chapter decided to raise money for brain cancer. Former Orange punter, Rob Long, was affected by brain cancer during his senior year at SU. Eric Morris, starting long snapper for the Orange and the chapter’s vice president, and Rodgers are using Long’s story as inspiration, while simultaneously honoring his positive outcome.

“I think it’s incredibly kind of Sam and Eric to reach out to me,” Long said. “It’s humbling and it’s pretty cool to see that people—outside of me and my immediate family—have been affected and want to make a difference.”

Long said the goal of this chapter of Uplifting Athletes is to raise money and awareness for brain cancer research. He said the money will be used to fund better treatment options and to hopefully, one day, find a cure.

Although he is an alum, Long is actively involved in the initiation of the new club at his alma mater. He plans to address current SU football players to get them excited about supporting the cause. In addition he will make appearances at events. He wants to share his success story with the community to show them that it is possible to overcome such a traumatic disease, but the monetary backing is crucial.

Long said he feels a sense of responsibility to give back after experiencing, first hand, the effects of donors.

“What I realized early on was that my treatment had been developed pretty recently,” Long said. “I understood why it was so important to give back because somebody, at some point, gave their time, money and effort to fund research that developed the medication that ultimately helped save my life.”